Voyage iconographique: Le martyre de Saint-Sébastien (1989) - full transcript

St. Sebastian. January 1988.

Goa, India.
St Sebastian's Day.

First images of a film
a long time in the making

on the different
representations of martyrdom.

Return to Europe. Conceive
the film as a journey across Europe.

For more than 400 paintings found,
choose thirty.

Write the movie.
Put it to paper.


Iconographic Voyage:
the martyrdom of St Sebastian

In India, I had found
a known image,

an image known since childhood.

In my memory, the image of
this man pierced by arrows

offered to suffering.

Who was St Sebastian?

Why for centuries
has he been painted?

Why the paintings so different?

Why such an ambiguity
between suffering and enjoyment?

The journey Bologna
was to leave in search of these answers

Florence looking for different
representations of Sebastian. Munich...




- National Gallery -

Refusal to film the paintings
during opening hours.

Take a video camera,
hide it under one's coat

and go to the
Crivelli room, 15th century.

St Sebastian in Heaven,
next to the Virgin.

Fineness of the pierced skin.

Sebastian, Captain of
the Praetorian Guard,

in the 3rd century,
in Rome, under Diocletian.

One of the favorites of the Emperor,
mad, homosexual, taking himself for God.

the last great persecutions

and Sebastian had to pay for his faith.

To be put to death by the archers,
he escaped.

Only later was he stoned and then died.

Six centuries of painting,
no stoning.

Always the arrows.
Always differently.

Honthorst, 17th.

Like a wounded bird.

It's nice to have a little curve there.

Return to Brussels.
Filming in the studio.

Take the time for a different look.
Get closer to the skin.

Follow with the camera
the movements of the painting.

Filming painting is
is to look at a way of painting,

but also a way of staging.

It is Crivelli who gives
to St Sebastian his arrows

to pose next to
the Virgin in Paradise.

While we know that
he has not been tortured to death.

It is St Francis who
looks at the baby Jesus,

who is watching the Virgin,

who is looking at Sebastian,
who looks at no one.

Another painting.
Another body.

Giovanni di Paolo, 15th century.

Because of restoration,
impossible to see in London.

St Sebastian had resisted
the arrows of torture.

The great plagues of Europe,
killing since the Middle Ages millions,

were the punishment,
the arrows of God.

And Sebastian had become
the great saint against plagues.

Precision in the veins along the hand.

Absence of sex under
the draped end of fabric.

Brussels, Sablon neighbourhood.

Before leaving for France,

I find the trace of a St Sebastian
for sale at an art dealer.

Maes, Belgian artist, 19th.

The arrows that pierce the body...

the representation as a whole...
A kind of enjoyment almost...

Camera in hand,
I film the body differently.

... look at the painting now...

... the broken arrow in the arm.
There is an artery that has been hit,

however there's no blood.

May 1988. Motorway.
Leaving the city.

Michel. Friend. Painter.

First assistant on the film.

A feeling of rediscovering
light, clouds, air, wind.

Paris. Orsay Museum.

Finding the strange atmosphere
of Ribot's painting

where Sebastian is cared for
by two monks after the torture.

Monks never represented elsewhere.

What exactly are they doing
in the darkness?

Go to the former house
of Gustave Moreau.

Search among the 7,000 sketches
spread throughout the floors.

At the back of the display units,

end up finding the sketch
of a male Sebastian,

then further on,
his feminine double.

Louvre Museum.

Go and look for the feminine image
and the male image of the Saint.

Raise one's eyes.

Raise one's eyes towards
the body of Perugino.

Perugino did not believe,

but all his martyrs look up on high,
raising their eyes towards God.


Mantegna. Masculine double
on the ground for the photography.

St Sebastian attached
to a world in ruins.



Room of the Flemish Primitives.

The day rises on
the triptych of Memling.

Open book where St Sebastian
and Christ become one.

The sacrifice.

The resurrection.

The ascension.

Memling, Bruges, 15th.

At the saint's feet, a modern
jacket from a surrealist painting.

Leave Paris. Leave Michel.

I find Charlotte,
my daughter and Didier.

Didier's house.
Find the origin of the film.

Indian music, where I filmed
the first images, the first emotion.

Excitement of returning here,

to the room that gave birth
to the desire for the film.

The skin and the look.

Say or don't say that.
Keep the secret.

But let's say starting from there,
there was the desire to tell a story,

to seek the space between
suffering and enjoyment,

to understand how this has
been shown throughout the centuries.

Find the book that started the film
and from there

set off again towards sensuality,
to the paintings' skin.

We have the feeling of
sinking into the painting.

A hand that has turned to the sky and
a hand that has turned to the earth.

I really like the two gazes.

The two heads are facing each other.
The two men of Light.

Then I really like...


Nicolas Regnier.

The path of the hand.

We see the vertical
traces of the brush.

And I find it always
moving to meet this trace.

Other skin, other paint.

I try to find the trace of
the brush on the body of Christ.




Brittany. End of the European continent.
Western end of the trip.

The museum is unfortunately here.
Perhaps all the saints we have,

and God only knows we
have enough in the museum,

were no help in the least in the face
of the hurricane of October 16th.

Which still ripped off our roof

and caused some damage inside.

Couldn't find the picture sought.

Museum destroyed by the storm.

Tours. June 10th.

Games between the filmed image
and the painted image.

Little girl filmed

facing the image of the son,
cared for by his mother.

Francesco Cairo.

The master of mouths half-open.

Train station.

An accordionist plays La Paloma.

Charlotte returns to
Brussels with her mother.




Summer light.

Théophile Bigot.

All day I film his painting.

In the middle of the museum room,
the video camera films my approach,

the comings and goings of visitors.

Museum space.

Space of a look.

Curator's letter in which
he asks me what I want to film.

The answer is in the colour
photocopies that adorn the letter.

She, Irene.

The wound.

And he, Sebastian.

Repeat the same frames.

Scene of an extraordinary concentration.

Try to understand what is happening.

Cemetery opposite St Bruno church.



Above the parish notice boards,

appears the body of a St Sebastian.

Road to the south.
Former pilgrimage route.

Crossing the yellow
of Van Gogh's sunflowers,

leaving the soft tones
of the Flemish primitives

to go meet the ochres
and blues of the Spanish.

Something of an initiatory journey
in these kilometers traveled.

Parking all along
the road to North Africa.

For a year, not having had time
to take his daughter in his arms.

I steal these images of tenderness.

Madrid. Prado. Breakdown.

Breakdown in the film
with the Prado that remains closed.

Yet, it may be the most human,

the most naked of the
St Sebastians I wanted to film.

The body deformed by El Greco's pain.

On the head of the statue
of Velasquez, children play.

Spain. Nowhere in Europe
is the image so sacred.

Body of Christ publicly
displayed in the cathedral.

Devotion of women.

Religion of touch, blood, skin.

In these kisses, find those of Goa
embracing the image of the saint

brought by the Portuguese Jesuits
450 years ago.

There remains the fascination of the flesh.

There as here,
the emotion in finding a living image.

The great saint against plagues,
the holy physician.

End of July.
Go up the painters' road

which in the 16th and 17th centuries
went down to Italy.

Highway of the sun.

Image of a pump attendant
out of a Crivelli painting

filmed a few months ago in London.


Sudden opportunity to go
to Italy to try to find a painting.

You can take photos
without flash, without tripod.

Voice of Adriana telephoning
the museums of Italy.

Break in the journey.

The Alps flattened by altitude.
I lose the painters' route.

I see neither colours
nor perspective.

Naples. August 1988.

Police investigation.

Search the city
for a painting by Forli.

A St Sebastian
somewhere in the city.

A number?

What is it? An extension?
I understand.

St Sebastian.
Alone, far from God.

Looking down.
The gaping wound that invades the picture.

We will search all the
museums, all the archives.

Without success.


To find the most famous St. Sebastian,
perhaps the most sensual.

Capitolini Museum.

Basilica of San Sebastian.
The Bernini recumbent.

Enjoyment offered.

Adriana, fascinated,
remains to watch.

Photograph of this moment.

Perugia. August 15th.

Find Lorenzo's St Sebastian,
face attacked by time.

One eye looks at men,
the other looks on high, at God.

Alone. Night. Alone in Italy.

Tomorrow Michel comes to join me.

5:27 p.m.. Florence Station.

Hotel room.
Looking back.

Return to this question:
Why the film?

Why St Sebastian?

Journey around 1,000
different ways to show a man

that we haven't known and
have imagined 1,000 different ways.

Show these differences.
aim to show that,

or rather aim to want to show,
to go take a look.

Pitti Gallery. Florence.


It is the viewer who makes
the painting said Marcel Duchamp.


Middle Ages. Mainieri.


August 19th. Arrival in Venice

From the vaporetto, redo the first
traveling shot in the history of cinema.

Promio, Lumière's cameraman,

100 years ago, from a gondola, filmed
the same houses on the Grand Canal.

Ca' d'Oro, Venetian palace
represented in a miniature painted

by da Verona in the 16th century.

At that time, young women
were leaning over the balcony.

Today, four centuries later,
the same balcony

without the little ladies.

But inside,
smiling beneath the pain,

Mantegna's St Sebastian.

Image of a religion based on blood,

built on the border between
suffering and enjoyment.

March 25, 1905. Beijing.

Fu-zhu-li, guilty of murdering
the person of a prince,

is condemned to be dissected alive.

Santa Maria Salute Church.


Piombo, who looks with disdain at the rope
that connects him to the order of the world.

We are forbidden because
of restoration.

We leave
without seeing the colours.

End of August. Milan Station.

Train to northern Europe.

Throughout the train journey,
portraits of imaginary St Sebastians.

Filming men who could have
posed for the painters

whose paintings I filmed.

Because we know nothing
about him, everything was possible.

For Christ, the age,
the face were known to painters

from texts, from the shroud.

15 centuries of painting
and 100 years of cinema

have represented the same Christ.

But Sebastian, we know only
the beauty of the young captain,

as the ambiguous ties
with the Emperor.

And with no original image,
all images have been possible.

Paris. School of Saint-Louis de Gonzague.

Remembering long masses in Latin.

Look back.


Believe as we have been led to believe
that when one bites on a host

the blood of Christ
squirts in your mouth.

Do it one day and realize
that nothing happens.

Absolutely nothing.

25 years later,

return alone to the school yard.

Find the place where my father
filmed my first communion

with his 8mm camera.

Try in these pictures
to understand why the film,

the journey of the film,
the evolution of the painting.

Always from the sacred
to the profane.

From faith towards beauty.

From masculine to feminine.


Cima da Conegliano.
Different images.

Go film the original to check

if the arrow is placed
against the frame or not.

Strasbourg-Munich train.

Weariness from the journey,
the solitude.

Need to find Luc.

Be careful not to lose
the film's desire,

what the images tell.

Munich. Luke's arrival.
Taxi for the museum.

Luc, would be my father-in-law
if I'd been married.

At the museum, Luc films.

A game of looks between our cameras.

Enter the room.

Holbein the Elder.

St Sebastian.

Luc films me.

Saint's journey to the crossbowman.

To find, to film, the crouching
position of the shooter.

Crossbow bolt
delicately held between the lips.

Bolt soon shot
into the flesh of the Saint.

Holbein, Luc.

Luc, van Dyck.

Sebastian's preparation for the torment.

Provocative pause.

Instant rarely staged.

Self-portrait of van Dyck.
He is 22 years old

and still works in Rubens' studio,
which he parodies.

Munich-Brussels train.
Autumn light.


Of the people who
accompanied me during the trip,

Luc is perhaps
the farthest from cinema,

but he's the one I film the most because
I sense the pleasure of being filmed,

to be recognized by the camera,
to be complicit in the film.

Brussels Airport.

Above, a covering of clouds.

Final trip with Michel to the east.

East Germany. Dresden.

November 26th. 18:00.

Vespers at the Kreuzkirche

Find here, in the east,
the emotion of the sacred.

Messina, 16th.

Tree planted in
the middle of the flagstones.

Sleeping crossbowman

like the child in the arms of his mother.

Couple strolling.
Old men talking things over.

Leave Dresden.

The clouds disperse.
Rediscover the blue sky of Messina.

November 28, arrival in Berlin.

Diptych of the master of St Sebastian.
15th century.

Detail. One of the archers
wearing a Mexican hat.

Painting, small cracks,
West Berlin, outside overcast...

Film through everything.
Five centuries of painting...

Last days of November... enclosing bodies...
overcast... through everything...

Lorenzo Lotto, 1531.

Something strange in the bonds.

Perhaps the most sensual
of St Sebastians.

Lotto. Tura.

Cosimo Tura. A century earlier.

Return to the sacred.

Arrows fine as needles.
Choreography of the hands.

Real suffering.

Georges de La Tour.

Immobility, silence.

Hand and face
cut into the wood like masks.

Ethnographic section.

Other arrows that have
never reached martyrs

Another culture. Another thought.

Latest images of the trip,

between east and west,
thousands of birds.

January 1989. Michel's workshop.

Winter light.



Gather together.

Seasonal film.

Migratory film.

All the objects, all the images,

all the memory of the film
that is coming to an end is here.

All the memory plus a St Sebastian,
that Michel has painted.

Substance of the painting.
Find the surface of the skin.

The skin as first
and last trace of the sacred.

The film: looking for images
produced on Sebastian over time

by the imagination of painters.

The film, after a long migration,

has refound its own story,
that of the return to the sacred.

In the Middle Ages, painters
represented the fear of the plague,

the fear and the respect of God
that I knew in my childhood.

Later, of the sacrificial body,
the intoxication of pain,

remained only
the beauty of the body,

the drunkenness of the body
offered to the viewer.

Parallel course between
the evolution of painting

and the journey of my past.

From the sacred to the profane.

From the fear of God to the
enjoyment of the human being

in what is most human,
and most profound...


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